Feb. 6, 2012
Missouri State Penitentiary
J. J. Maloney, the founder of Crime Magazine, spent 13 years in prison for a murder he committed during an armed robbery when he was 19 years old. Paroled in 1972, he went to work for The Kansas City Star as a book reviewer and became a full-time reporter the next year. The following stories are based on his prison years at “The Walls” in Jefferson City, Missouri. Mr. Maloney died in 1999 at age 59.
by J.J. Maloney
I. A Natural Poet
He had a dog-eared sheaf of papers clutched in his hand. "You're a poet, aren't you?" he asked.
I nodded yes, but felt immediately paranoid because he made it sound like more of an accusation than a question. He was a reddish-haired kid with a puffy face and thick eyeglasses that made his eyes look watery. Between his two front teeth there was a sizeable gap.
He was a poet. He'd brought this sheaf of offerings as proof. I listened, politely, but with a lack of enthusiasm. Every prison has a hundred would-be poets.
He was different in that he had a sheaf of poems, which indicated some industriousness. He rattled off the names of several small poetry magazines that had published his work.
I reluctantly agreed to take his work to my cell and read it and critique it. People who write are generally more interested in confirmation than criticism.
That evening, though, when I'd finished everything I considered important, I dragged the poems out and read them. They were good – very good. They bordered on professionalism. So I read them again, and they were as good as they'd been the first time.
I sat there and stared out the bars for a while, thinking of this awkward-looking kid with the puffy face who also happened to be a good poet – a promising poet, since he was only 19 years old.